Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Yesterday takes shape with iPhone retro appeal

  • Cell-phone-handset

    An old-fashioned handset for cell phones originally was created as a gag gift.

  • iCade

    The iCade iPad Arcade Cabinet by ThinkGeek.



An old-fashioned handset for cell phones originally was created as a gag gift.


LOS ANGELES — Consider the iPhone: It’s a camera, a newspaper, a video game, an alarm clock, a music player, a map, and, occasionally, a phone. And yet, it doesn’t look like any of these things. Compact and plain, the iPhone most resembles a flat-screen television, or maybe the front of a microwave oven.

On an intellectual level, we thrill at the idea that such a sleek gadget can accomplish so much, but on a subconscious level, some of us want alarm clocks to look like alarm clocks and telephones to look like telephones. Responding to this desire, designers are creating accessories that give iconic forms to the iPhone’s basic shape.

"As technology gets more sophisticated, it kind of loses its soul," said New York industrial designer Jonas Damon, who created the Alarm Dock, an iPhone recharger that resembles a GE alarm clock, circa 1973. "Before, things had a stronger identity because they had physical and mechanical structure, but now objects with archetypal shapes are disappearing."

Alarm Dock is part of Damon’s Analog Group of retro docks made of beech wood. The Radio Dock for the iPhone looks like a transistor radio; CRT, created for the iPad, looks like an old television. The Alarm Dock is the only one in production. It will be available in August for $40 through

Mr. Damon says the Analog Group was an experiment in how objects communicate to us, and our attachment to iconic shapes. "How can I tell that my iPhone is actually an alarm clock? Well, if I make it look like an alarm clock," he said. "And to me, alarm clocks look a certain way."

Scott Freeland, the Florida creator of iRetrofone, had less lofty goals in mind. "I just wanted to make something really cool to put your phone in," he said.

Mr. Freeland works as a sculptor for amusement parks and restaurants. If you need a 6-foot-tall margarita or a giant resin dragonfly, he’s your guy. He made the first iRetrofone out of urethane for himself a year and a half ago. When his wife put a photo of it on Etsy as an experiment, bloggers picked it up and images of Mr. Freeland’s iRetrofone quickly went viral.


The iCade iPad Arcade Cabinet by ThinkGeek.


"I was really excited that everyone thought it was so cool," Mr. Freeland said. "And they got my whole intent, to combine something very new with something very old." Since then he’s sold about 400 phones on Etsy, where they sell for $195 to $350.

At the Milan furniture fair in Italy this spring, attendees were buzzing over MegaPhone, a sculptural amplifier for the iPhone that relies on the physics of sound rather than electronics to turn up the volume. The Italian design team En & Is said it wanted to create a low-tech product that would work with the speakers of the iPhone to "passively" amplify the sound. The result is a ceramic and wood object shaped vaguely like a giant shofar.

Black Design Associates recently created a concept camera attachment for the iPhone called Leica i9. It’s a functional shell that snaps around the phone, adding a Leica lens. Simon Nielsen, a design engineer, said the project was partially inspired by the recent fall in entry-level camera sales.

"Cellphone photography has become increasingly popular and instead of fighting it, we tried to embrace it and take advantage of all the technology that is built into the iPhone," he said.

"We used the same design language as the original Leica camera, which has already been optimized to feel good and function right," he said. The Leica i9 is not on the market, and might never be, but Black Design Associates is in talks with camera companies.

Other accessories include Hipstamatic’s iPhone case, which makes the device look like a point-and-shoot camera from the 1980s ($39.95), and ThinkGeek’s iCade, which converts the iPad into a miniature arcade game machine with joystick ($99.99). Etsy shoppers can find cases that make the iPhone look like a cassette tape or a Nintendo Game Boy ($9.50).

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